As a result of the crash on Lap 1, Esteban Ocon’s Alpine was the one who capitalized on on the events and won the eleventh round of the 2021 Formula 1 season, the Hungarian Grand Prix, a victory that seems incredible for the French driver. He was followed by Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin, but the former Ferrari driver was then disqualified for lack of fuel. On the lowest step of the podium there was Lewis Hamilton, who now leads Max Verstappen in the Drivers’ standings. The first Ferrari, that of Carlos Sainz, took fourth place, immediately ahead of Fernando Alonso, but they all gained one place along with the rest of the grid due to Sebastian Vettel’s disqualification.
Let’s get into the analysis immediately, starting from the beginning: slightly wet, tricky track for the race start. The entire grid decides to start on Intermediate tires. But everything changed: at the red flag, caused by the accident on the first lap, teams had the freedom to decide with which tire to restart. Without certain information, the teams used the formation lap to understand the track conditions and consequently choose the most suitable compound. When it came time to line up on the grid, the only one who believed in the intermediate tire was Hamilton. An almost trivial mistake, which deprived him of the first position. Apparently the team was sure there would be more showers.
All the rest of the grid returned to the pits to take the Medium compound and thus start from the pit lane. The Mercedes AMG F1 wall immediately noticed the mistake made and immediately brought back Hamilton to change the tyres. Back in the group in last position, the Brit was unable to find the pace, complaining about the lack of grip available. He then found himself bottled up behind slower cars, such as Giovinazzi and above all Gasly. In this situation he lost a lot of race time, as the difficulty was visible. Lots of blockages for Lewis due to overheated tyres. From the graph below it is easy to understand Hamilton’s lack of pace compared to the top of the grid.
Strangely enough, no one tried to use the Hard from the restart. It wouldn’t have been the best option considering the temperatures at the time, but it could have been a winning card over the long haul. This tire would have had the potential to lead the drivers to the end of the race.
Among the first to test it was Lewis Hamilton, who decided to stop to try something different. As a result, Verstappen was recalled to the Red Bull box. Nevertheless, the Mercedes was successful and the British driver of Mercedes therefore gaind the position on Verstappen, but also on Ricciardo. On this tire, the German F1 car was reignited.
In front Ocon set his pace, however pressed by Vettel. From the garage they informed him that the strategy on paper remained the same, that is plan A, which consisted of the only stop. Still referring to the graph above, we can say that Ocon and Vettel, together with Alonso, dictated the pace by running at 23.5. Not very good times or at the level of a Mercedes or a Red Bull in normal condition, but still good.
Both had to start pushing to cover both Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton’s comeback with the Hard tire. The Ferrari driver, the only one left in the race, personally decided to delay the stop when the garage had called him back. The pit wall wanted to try an undercut on the cars in front, but the Spaniard ensured he could keep a good pace for more laps, so that he could have a fresher Hard tire once he pitstop.
Arriving in fifth position, Hamilton had a free way to push. This moment determined the pit stop of Carlos Sainz, who stopped to mount the white band tire. A few laps later Vettel also stopped for the same compound. The German triggered Ocon’s stop on the next lap. Despite Sebastian’s excellent return lap, the Frenchman from Alpine managed to maintain first position also thanks to the delay in changing tires for the Aston Martin Cognizant F1 mechanics. The 3.3 seconds used, in fact, are crucial and do not allow the German to overtake Esteban.
From then on, a tightrope battle began. Ocon and Vettel lapped on 21.8, while Alonso was even the fastest on the track. Carlos Sainz never really had a chance to race for the win, lapping two tenths of a second behind the leading drivers. Right behind, Carlos Sainz and Hamilton engaged in the battle of lap times for the podium. With thirty laps to go, the Briton complained of a loss of rear grip.
In addition, from behind Alonso began to set a good pace with a new white tire. The Mercedes strategists then implemented the usual comeback strategy. At 48th they recalled Lewis for a new yellow tire, only losing the position to Fernando. From then on Lewis set a decidedly impressive pace.
Sebastian Vettel reacted and began to show himself in Ocon’s mirrors, aware that Hamilton would arrive. A virtual or safety car could have helped the leading drivers as it would have allowed a ‘free’ pit stop to return to the track with a new tire. Hamilton’s comeback, however, was blocked by Fernando Alonso, who magically managed to keep the seven-time world champion behind. The Spaniard could have easily let him through and gained an advantage in the fight with Carlos. However, he decided to favor his teammate and in addition, he gave his compatriot a great hand.
As for the tires, Ferrari was better off on the Hard than on the Medium. We recall that the compounds brought to this grand prix are the same as those used in France. The Hungarian race was therefore the final test to understand the improvements of the SF21 in recent months. All that was missing was the feedback on the Soft tire, the softest in the whole Pirelli range. At Mercedes AMG F1 it was a somewhat complex race from this point of view. Lewis’s first middleweight stint didn’t work at all. In the last stint, however, the combination of a lighter car and medium tire was excellent.
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